A Reading Guide for the Martyrs Mirror


“Dear brothers and sisters, awake, and make straight paths for your feet, that you may always be prepared for the Gospel of peace, which calls us only to peace, for beautiful are the feet of them that fear the Lord. Never separate from the church of the Lord; for it is the body of Christ, and he is the Saviour of his body.” Hans Symons, 1567 (p. 711)

“My child, do not regard the great number, nor walk in their ways. Remove thy foot far from their paths, for they go to hell (Isaiah 5:14)…But where you hear of a poor, cast-off little flock (Luke 12:32), which is despised and rejected by the world, join them; for where you hear of the cross, there is Christ; from there do not depart.” Anna Jansz, 1539 (p. 454)

“Sell your clothes, and buy Testaments; attend to the words of God: for therein you will find life.” Christoffel Fierens, 1572 (p. 961)

The Martyrs Mirror is a challenging book to read, more like a rambling castle or a complex labyrinth than a well-organized house or an open highway.  When my two teenagers were baptized recently, I gave them each a copy of the Martyrs Mirror and also a reading guide to get started on the journey of exploration.  This reading guide reflects my own interests and preoccupations but for those looking to find their way around in the book, this guide might be helpful.  The Martyrs Mirror began as a little book entitled The Sacrifice of the Lord and grew into the big book that it is today. A good way to begin exploration is to read the little book within the big book, so the guide begins with a list of narratives and letters found in The Sacrifice of the Lord.  Following this are some additional lists of inspirational and provocative literature in the Martyrs Mirror.

The Sacrifice of the Lord 1562 (the original “Martyrs Mirror”)*

  1.  Stephen ……………………………………………………….. 70-71
  2. Michael Sattler, 1527…………………………………………. 416-18
  3. Anna Janz of Rotterdam, 1539………………………………… 453-54
  4. Jan Claes and Lucas, 1544…………………………………….. 468-71
  5. Elizabeth Dirks of Leeuwarden, 1549………………………………… 481-83
  6. Hans van Overdam, 1550……………………………………… 486-93
  7. Hans Keescooper, 1550……………………………………….. 493-94
  8. Jerome Segers and Lijsken Dirks, 1551…..…………………… 504-21
  9. Peter Bruynen, 1551…………………………………………… 523-24
  10. Jan, the old clothes buyer, 1551……………………………… 524-25
  11. Adrian Corneliss, 1552………………………………………. 527-35
  12. Pieter van Wervijck, 1552……………………………………… 536-36
  13. Joos Kindt, 1552……………………………………………… 540-46
  14. Claes de Praet, 1556…………………………………………. 554-60
  15. Joriaen Simons, 1557………………………………………… 564-67
  16. Jacques d’Auchy, 1559…………………………………………. 591-610
  17. Claesken Gaeledochtor, 1559……..…………………………. 611-15
  18. Adriaen Pan, 1559……………………………………………… 619
  19. Hans de Vette, 1559………………………………………….. 620-22
  20. Hans Vermeersch, 1559………………………………………… 631-33
  21. Lenaert Plovier, 1559………………………………………….. 642-43
  22. Jelis Bernaerts, 1559……………………………………………. 624-30

 Interesting Stories

  • Leonhard Keyser, whose body and flower would not burn…….. 420-21
  • Maria van Beckum and her sister in law Ursula………………. 467-68, 500
  • Elizabeth, Hadewijk, and the drunken drummer………………. 546-47
  • Jan Jans and the basket escape through a window……………. 483
  • Fije and Eelken, two men who loved each other……………… 484-85
  • Simon the Shopkeeper refuses to kneel……………………….. 540
  • Hans Brael survives his jailors…………………………………. 560-63
  • Andries Langedul and the escape of the midwives…………….. 633-34
  • Pieter Pieters Beckjen and worship in a boat…………………. 738-40
  • Dirk Willems rescues his enemy from the icy pond…………. 741
  • Paul Glock refuses to acknowledge Christian magistracy…… 1024
  • Melchoir Platser gives a sermon before his execution..……… 1059
  • Menno Simons escapes his enemies…………………………. 1096-97
  • Hans Landis forgives his executioner in advance…………… 1103-05

Beautiful testimonies and letters

  • Felix Manz against coercion and for love alone……….…..………415
  • Algerius of Padua “infinite sweetness in the bowels of a lion”……570-72
  • Soetken van den Houte to her children: “seek for the only joy”….646-50
  • Jan Thieleman tells the Heilsgeschichte (salvation history)……….731-34
  • Hendrick Verstralen to Janneken: “you are buried in my heart”.…877-78
  • Maerten van der Straten to Belikan: “more patience than I”………954-55
  • Mayeken Wens to Mattheus: “parting is the hardest”……………..981
  • Hans van Munstdorp to his daughter: “take up a book”……………985
  • Raphael van den Velde to his son: “love conquers all things..……1034-35
  • Louwerens Janss Noodtdruft letters written on spoons……………1055-56
  • Joost de Tollenaer to his daughter: be “a daughter of Sarah”……..1076-80
  • Maeyken Wouters on martyrdom and romance…….……….…….1093

Eloquent prayers

  • Invocation by the editor Thieleman J. van Braght…………………5
  • Hans Koch and Leonhard Meister prayer for protection…………..414
  • Anna of Freiburg prayer: “keep me in thy truth”………………….435
  • Walter of Stoelwijk prayer for guidance and preservation…………464
  • Maeyken van Deventer prayer for her children……………………979
  • Prayer for secular power……………………………………………1135

Songs of the martyrs

  • Leonard Schoener hymn from the Ausbund (#31)…….…………..425
  • Hans Schlaffer hymn from the Ausbund (#32)……………………426
  • George Blaurock hymns from the Ausbund (#5 )……………431-32
  • The seven brothers hymn from the Ausbund (#61)…..……………434
  • Hymn by Clement Dirks, Mary Joris, and Joriaen Simons………..563-64
  • Song about Anneken Hendricks…………………………………..872-73
  • Jan Wouters & Adriaenken Jans hymn……………………………900
  • Hans Haslibacher hymn from the Ausbund (#140)…….…..……..1128-29

Provocative disputations

  • Weynken Claes offers wit and sarcasm about oil and wood…..….422-23
  • Lauwerens van der Leyen debates the incarnation………………..636-39
  • Jacob de Roore responds to harsh and vulgar criticism……………773-85
  • Herman Vleckwijk argues Trinitarian dogma…………………….785-98

Important confessions of faith

  • Apostle’s creed…………………………………………………….27
  • Thomas von Imbroich confession on baptism (Swiss), 1558…….367-71
  • Hendrick Terwoort and Jan Pieterss confession, 1575…………..1017
  • Twisck-Pietersz confession (Frisian), 1617………………..……..373-410
  • Olive Branch confession (Flemish-Frisian), 1627……..………….27-33
  • Jan Cents confession (Flemish), 1630……………………………33-38
  • Dordrecht confession (Flemish, Amish), 1632……………………38-44

Witness of apostles, martyrs, and church fathers (pp. 63-200)

  • The crucifixion of Jesus Christ……………………………………67
  • The life of Paul the Apostle………………………………………..81-85
  • Tertullian critiques hasty baptism…………………………………119
  • Perpetua and Felicitas from Africa executed………………………127
  • Origen opposes religious coercion………………………………..122
  • The Nicene Council………………………………………………..155-56
  • Ambrose against violence…………………………………………159-60
  • John Chrysostom on baptism and war….…………………………165-66
  • Augustine and his friend Euvodius who abandoned warfare……..170

Witness of dissenters and reformers in the church

  • Greek comedy and tragedy versus theater of the martyrs…………6, 353
  • The teachings of the Donatists…………………………………….154-55
  • Peter Waldo and the Waldensians…………………………………275-90
  • The crusade against the Albigenses………..……………………..304-08
  • John Huss and John Wycliffe……………………………………..336-37
  • Footnote on the Münster Anabaptist catastrophe…………………17
  • The struggles of the Hutterites in Austria………..……………….450-53
  • Anabaptists in England persecuted by Queen Elizabeth I……….1008-12
  • The renewed persecution of Swiss Anabaptists………………….1108-24
  • Jegly Schlabach and other Swiss Brethren elders imprisoned……1124-25

*reading list from The Sacrifice of the Lord found in James Lowry, The Martyrs Mirror Made Plain. Aylmer, Ont.: Pathway, 1997.

Prepared for Anna Lynn Biesecker-Mast and Jacob Daniel Biesecker-Mast by their father Gerald J. Mast on the occasion of their baptism at First Mennonite Church, Bluffton, April 16, 2017.


When Anabaptists Were Refugees


On July 13, 1711, Christian Stutzman and Magdalena Stucki left their home in Bern, Switzerland to travel north down the Rhine River on a boat headed for the Netherlands. Christian was a 34 year old farmer and member of the Reformed Church whose 37 year old wife Magdalena had been baptized into an Amish congregation. Because of Magdalena’s membership in an Anabaptist church, they were being deported by the Bern authorities, along with nearly three hundred fifty other Amish and Reistian Swiss Brethren from Bern who left their villages and farms behind to become refugees looking for a safe home across the border.

The refugees on the boats going north carried names such as Eberly, Gerber, Habegger, Jost, Kropf, Meyer, Miller, Moser, Reesor, Raber, Roth, Rupp, Schirch, Schmid, Schlabach, Schwartzentruber, Sommer, Stucki, Stutzman, Wenger, to list just a few. These Swiss refugees found hospitality in Dutch Mennonite communities that had advocated on their behalf with both Dutch and Swiss authorities. Fifty years later, Christian Stutzman appeared in the records as an Amish minister in the congregation at Kampen. Some of the descendants of these refugees, like those of Christian and Magdalena, eventually ended up in North America.

The details of this deportation and the many decades of harassment and persecution endured by Swiss Anabaptists in the 1600’s and 1700’s are found in two volumes of source documents from the Stadtsarchief Amsterdam, newly transcribed and translated by James Lowry and published by the Ohio Amish Library under the title Documents of Brotherly Love, vols. I and II. These letters and transcripts provide evidence for the persistent and costly work of the Committee for Foreign Needs formed by various Dutch Mennonite groups to provide legal, political, and monetary assistance to persecuted Swiss Anabaptists in Zurich and Bern. For example, in 1671, the Swiss authorities deported around 700 Anabaptists to the Palatinate, punishing those who returned back over the border illegally by imprisoning them and/or branding them with a hot iron. Frustrated by the number of returning refugees, the authorities eventually sold some of them as slaves to row on galley ships. The Dutch Mennonites intervened by advocating on behalf of the refugees, providing money and other assistance for resettlement in the Palatinate, and sending delegations to visit the refugees to check on their well-being.

Why were these Anabaptist farmers so despised by the Bernese authorities that they were uprooted from their homes, many of them imprisoned, and eventually sent north? One reason is that the Swiss Anabaptists were stubborn nonconformists who declined to participate in the official civic Christianity of Switzerland. They refused to swear oaths of allegiance and they were unwilling to take up arms in defense of their homeland. They also disobeyed the numerous mandates against them, often returning illegally to their land and families after being expelled by the authorities.

More broadly, many of their neighbors and some of the civil authorities regarded the Anabaptists as both a religious and a security threat. Repeatedly, the Swiss authorities identified the Swiss Brethren with the violent Anabaptists at Münster who abolished private property and established polygamy in 1534-35, as well as with Anabaptists who had participated in the German Peasants Revolt of 1525 led by Thomas Müntzer. Johannes Ludwig Runckel, the Dutch ambassador to Switzerland who was given authority to negotiate with Bern authorities about their Anabaptist issues, lamented in a letter to the Committee for Foreign Needs that “most government officials here do not know what the characteristics of the Mennonites actually are, nor know what kind of distinction to make between them and the Müntzerite and Münsterite Anabaptists. Rather, they blindly believe as gospel all which the opponents and persecutors of the Mennonites charge them with.”

Runckel’s presence in Bern as a negotiator on behalf of the Amish and Reistian Swiss Brethren was due in part to the political advocacy work of the Dutch Mennonites, who had come to see these Swiss dissenters as their brothers and sisters in faith, even though Swiss Anabaptism originated in a different milieu than did Dutch Anabaptism. Of course, the Dutch Mennonites also remembered a time when their churches were branded with being “Münsterites” and subject to mandates and harassment. For years following the end of the Münster regime, a band of Anabaptists led by a former Münsterite named Jan van Batenburg sought to destabilize the social order by plundering churches and monasteries. Memories of the Münster regime and Batenburger crime plagued Anabaptist communities who struggled to distinguish their peaceful churches from Münster and its aftermath.

We should acknowledge, to be sure, that the story of the Mennonites is indeed connected to the story of Münster. For example, the Martyrs Mirror includes the story of the songwriter Anna Janz, who converted from the revolutionary Anabaptism of Münster to the spiritualist nonresistance of David Joris before she was captured, imprisoned, and executed. Anna left behind an influential and eloquent letter to her son, Isaiah, explaining her apocalyptic, yet peaceful, faith convictions.

Menno Simons, like numerous other peaceful Anabaptist leaders, had personal connections to Münsterite leaders. He was baptized and ordained by Obbe Philips, who had been baptized and ordained by Münsterite missioners. Scholars think it likely that Menno’s younger brother Peter was part of a band of armed Anabaptists who occupied the Oldeklooster monastery in April of 1535 and were defeated after a battle in which Peter was killed. When Menno left the Catholic church that year to join the Anabaptist movement, he was joining a discredited radical conventicle that was regarded as a threat not just to orthodox Christianity but also to the social order itself. Menno devoted much of his pastoral work and writing to distinguishing peaceful Anabaptism from militant Anabaptism and to building a network of congregations that displayed the peace and holiness of the New Jerusalem in their life together.

But Menno did not live to see tolerance of Anabaptist churches in the Low Countries and Northern Germany where he ministered. He and his family lived on the run as fugitives and refugees from civil authorities who never managed to apprehend him, even though they placed a price on his head of 100 guilders. As late as 1554, the city council of Wismar—where Menno had lived for a time—voted to expel Anabaptists from the city.

By the time Dutch Mennonites formed a relief committee to assist the beleaguered and persecuted Swiss Anabaptists in the late 1600’s, Dutch Anabaptism had experienced a century of toleration and growing affluence. But because of books like the Martyrs Mirror, they remembered their heritage as a people on the run—ready to “flee for the Lord’s sake from one city or country into another, and suffer the spoiling of our goods,” as the 1632 Dordrecht Confession of Faith puts it in article 14. This memory of a refugee past strengthened their solidarity with Swiss Anabaptists who were threatened with deportation and imprisonment.

The actions taken by the Dutch Mennonites in support of Swiss Anabaptist refugees can inspire our actions today on behalf of people on the run because of religious or political persecution or because of war. Because our faith ancestors were often wrongly associated with the violence of extremists in their faith communities, we should be sympathetic to those of our neighbors who are falsely blamed for the violence of their co-religionists. Because our faith ancestors often broke the law in order to stay connected with their families and property, we should find solidarity with undocumented people who cross borders illegally for the sake of personal survival, financial needs, or family relationships. Moreover, we can be inspired by the work of the Committee on Foreign Needs in at least five areas.

  1. Advocacy. The Committee on Foreign Needs lobbied the States General of the Netherlands and Dutch Reformed Church leaders to intervene with their counterparts in Zurich and Bern on behalf of the persecuted Swiss Anabaptists. An outcome of this lobbying was that the States General authorized their ambassador Johannes Ludwig Runckel to look after the interests of the Swiss Anabaptists and to negotiate on their behalf. Without this advocacy, many Swiss Anabaptists would no doubt have been left to rot in prison, and most of them would have been forced to give up their assets when they migrated.
  1. Cooperation. Dutch Mennonite groups who were confessionally and culturally divided from one another worked together to support the Swiss Anabaptists in their time of trouble and dislocation. Congregations who worked together on refugee relief ranged from the very conservative Groningen Old Flemish to the liberal Waterlanders and included both Zonist and Lamist congregations.
  1. Money. The Committee on Foreign Needs raised more than half a million guilders from Dutch Mennonite congregations over the course of fifty years to support Swiss Anabaptist refugees. This amounts to millions of today’s American dollars (likely around $5 million), a substantial financial commitment of concrete care and support.
  1. Hospitality. Urban and suburban Dutch Mennonite professionals opened their homes to rural Swiss Anabaptist farmers and artisans who spoke a different language and who expressed a simpler piety. The Swiss often stayed in Dutch homes for months until a suitable plan for longer-term residence was found.
  1. Resettlement. The Committee on Foreign Needs investigated many options for resettling the Swiss refugees, including negotiating with the King of Prussia for a possible settlement there. In the end, most of the refugees ended up finding homes in or near Dutch cities like Deventer, Kampen, Sappemeer, and Groningen.   The Committee helped the refugees to purchase houses and farms and to become established in their occupations. Although at first the Swiss worshipped in separate congregations, they eventually assimilated into various Dutch Mennonite groups, and some migrated to North America with the assistance of the committee. Among those who came to Pennsylvania were descendants of Christian Stutzman and Magdalena Stucki.

In a 1708 letter urging organized support of the persecuted Swiss Anabaptists, Jan Freriksz from Deventer described the conditions that led Christian leaders to attack Anabaptist communities in Switzerland, threatening them with prison, deportation, and galley slavery. He writes that “as long as there are followers of hatred and as long as there is hatred, especially that which originates in pseudo-religion, there will be persecution: one time less, another time more.” Freriksz cited a proverb: “Theological hatred is satanic hatred.” The causes of persecution have not disappeared, nor have the needs of persecuted refugees that require the advocacy and generosity of the church.


Leroy Beachy, Unser Leit…The Story of the Amish. Vol. I and II. Millersburg, Ohio: Goodly Heritage Books, 2011.

Delbert Gratz. Bernese Anabaptists and Their American Descendants. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1953.

James Lowry, ed. and trans., Documents of Brotherly Love: Dutch Mennonite Aid to Swiss Brethren, Vol. I, 1635-1709; Vol. II, 1710-1711. Millersburg, Ohio: Ohio Amish Library, 2007, 2015.

Ernst Müller, History of the Bernese Anabaptists. trans. by John A. Gingerich. Aylmer, Ont.: Pathway Publishers, 2010.

Testing Faith and Tradition. Global Mennonite History Series: Europe. Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books, 2006.

Nanne van der Zijpp, “The Dutch Aid the Swiss Mennonites.” In Cornelius J. Dyck, ed., A Legacy of Faith: The Heritage of Menno Simons. Newton, Kansas: Faith and Life Press, 1962.

A Study Plan for Reading Anabaptist Sources


For the past three years, a small group of faculty, students, and pastors in Bluffton, Ohio have been meeting weekly over coffee to discuss early Anabaptist source texts—now available in English after a century of difficult, costly, and time-consuming translating/publishing work. Many people are unaware of how many sources are now available in English beyond the basic Anabaptist classics such as the Martyrs Mirror and the writings of Menno Simons. As we prepare to commemorate the Reformation anniversaries in the coming years, this study plan offers one way for Anabaptist-identified Christians to consider their spiritual heritage. The schedule works well for a reading group but could also serve as a personal reading plan.

The study plan outlined here offers a list of Anabaptist sources translated into English, a schedule of weekly readings for working through these sources, and suggested secondary sources that shed light on the context for these readings. The schedule includes over three years of weekly selections but does not yet cover the entire list of sources. I will post updates to the schedule as we continue with our study group in Bluffton. The schedule is roughly chronological in terms of when the texts were written and/or published and ranges across the three main hearths of the European Anabaptist movements: Switzerland, Central and South Germany, and the Low Countries. The time period covered is from the early 1500’s to the early 1700’s. 

Source texts based primarily in Classics of the Radical Reformation CRR  and Anabaptist Texts in Translation ATT (in order of reading):

  1. The Sources of Swiss Anabaptism (CRR 4, Herald, 1985)
  2. Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism (CRR 5, Herald, 1989)
  3. The Legacy of Michael Sattler (CRR 1, Herald, 1973)
  4. The Essential Carlstadt (CRR 8, Herald, 1995)
  5. The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck (CRR 2, Herald, 1978)
  6. Jörg Maler’s Kunstbuch (CRR 12, Pandora, 2010)
  7. Later Writings by Pilgram Marpeck and his Circle (ATT 1, Pandora, 1999)
  8. Sources of South German/Austrian Anabaptism (CRR 10, Pandora, 2001)
  9. The Spiritual Legacy of Hans Denck (Brill, 1991)
  10. The Theologia Germanica of Martin Luther (Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1980).
  11. Jakob Hutter, Brotherly Faithfulness: Epistles from a Time of Persecution (ATT 5, Pandora/Plough 1979).
  12. Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith (CRR 9, Herald, 1999)
  13. The Anabaptist Writings of David Joris (CRR 7, Herald, 1994)
  14. The Complete Writings of Menno Simons (Herald, 1956)
  15. The Writings of Dirk Philips (CRR 6, Herald, 1992)
  16. Biblical Concordance of the Swiss Brethren, 1540 (ATT 2, Pandora, 2001)
  17. The Earliest Hymns of the Ausbund (ATT 3, Pandora, 2003)
  18. Elizabeth’s Manly Courage: Testimonials and Songs of Martyred Anabaptist Women in the Low Countries (Marquette UP, 2001)
  19. Peter Walpot, True Surrender and Christian Community of Goods (Plough, 1957)
  20. Peter Walpot, The Christian and the Sword (Plough, 2011)
  21. Selected Hutterian Documents in Translation 1542-1654 (HBBC, 2013)
  22. Confessions of Faith in the Anabaptist Tradition (CRR 11, Pandora, 2006)
  23. Later Writings of the Swiss Brethren (ATT 7, Pandora, 2017).
  24. Hans Landis: Swiss Anabaptist Martyr in Seventeenth Century Documents (Ohio Amish Library, 2003)
  25. Peter Jansz Twisk, The Ransom of Christ (HeuleGordon, 2003)
  26. Jan Philipsz Schabaelje, The Wandering Soul (Raber’s, 1975)
  27. Andreas Ehrenpreis and Claus Felbinger, Brotherly Community, the Highest Command of Love (ATT 6, Pandora, 2006).
  28. Thieleman J. van Braght, The Bloody Theatre or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians (Herald, 1938+)
  29. Documents of Brotherly Love: Dutch Mennonite Aid to Swiss Anabaptists, Vol. 1, 1635-1709 (Ohio Amish Library, 2007)
  30. Letters of the Amish Division (Mennonite Historical Society, 2002)
  31. Golden Apples in Silver Bowls (Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, 1999)
  32. Prayer Book for Earnest Christians (Herald, 1997)

Additional source texts compilations to be used as supplements:

  1. George Williams, ed., Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers (Westminster, 1957) SAW
  2. Daniel Liechty, Early Anabaptist Spirituality (Paulist, 1994) EAS

The Sources of Swiss Anabaptism

  1. Introduction; Prologue, 1517; and Act 1, 1517-1518 (25-75)
  2. Act 2, 1518-1520 (76-105)
  3. Act 3, 1520-1522 (106-163)
  4. Act 4, 1522-1523 (164-274)
  5. Act 5a, 1523-1525 (275-332)
  6. Act 5b, 1523-1525 (333-416)
  7. Act 5c, 1523-1525 (416-455)
  8. Epilogue, 1525-1540 (457-526)

Background reading for The Sources of Swiss Anabaptism

Harold Bender, Conrad Grebel, c. 1498-1526: Founder of the Swiss Brethren (Herald, 1950)

Fritz Blanke, Brothers in Christ (Herald, 1961)

John D. Roth and James M. Stayer, A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700 (Brill 2007).

Arnold Snyder, “The Birth and Evolution of Swiss Anabaptism 1520-1530 (MQR, October 2006), also in A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700 (45-81)

Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism

  1. Introduction; “Eighteen Theses Concerning the Christian Life”; “An Earnest Christian Appeal to Schaffhausen”; “Theses Against Eck”; “On Heretics and Those Who Burn Them”; “Letter to Oecolampad” (15-20; 30-72)
  2. “Several Theses Concerning the Mass”; “A Public Challenge to All Believers”; “Summa of the Entire Christian Life”; “Letter to the Zurich Council” (73-92)
  3. “On the Christian Baptism of Believers” (95-149)
  4. “Recantation at Zurich”; “Interrogation and Release”; “Dialogue with Zwingli’s Baptism Book” (150-233)
  5. “Twelve Articles in Prayer Form”; “A Brief ‘Our Father’”; “Old and New Teachers on Believers Baptism” (234-274)
  6. “On Infant Baptism Against Oecolampad”; “A Brief Apologia” (275-313)
  7. “A Simple Instruction” (314-338)
  8. “A Christian Catechism” (339-365)
  9. “The Ground and Reason”; “A Form for Water Baptism”; “A Form for the Lord’s Supper” (366-371; 386-408)
  10. “On Fraternal Admonition”; “On the Christian Ban” (372-385; 409-425)
  11. “Freedom of the Will I”; “Freedom of the Will II” (426-491)
  12. “On the Sword” (492-523)
  13. “Apologia”; “Vienna Testimony”; “Rejoice, Rejoice” (524-571)

Background reading for Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism

Torsten Bergsten, Balthasar Hubmaier: Anabaptist Theologian and Martyr (Judson, 1978)

Christoph Windhorst, “Balthasar Hubmaier: Professor, Politician, Preacher” in Hans-Jürgen Goertz, ed., Profiles of Radical Reformers (Herald, 1982), 144-157.

The Legacy of Michael Sattler

  1. Felix Manz’s “Letter from Prison” in Martyrs Mirror, 415 or Liechty, EAS, 17-19; Introduction; “Parting with the Strasbourg Reformers” (10-26)
  2. “The Schleitheim Brotherly Union” (27-54)
  3. “Letter to Horb”; “The Capito Letters” (55-65; 86-99)
  4. “Martyrdom” (66-85)
  5. “On Divorce”; “On the Satisfaction of Christ” (100-120)
  6. “On Two Kinds of Obedience”; “On False Prophets and Evil Overseers”; “Epistle From Melchior Rinck” (121-138)
  7. “When Christ with His Teaching True” (139-149)
  8. “How Scripture Should be Discerningly Exposited” (150-177)

Background reading for The Legacy of Michael Sattler

Arnold Snyder, The Life and Thought of Michael Sattler (Herald, 1984)

Gerald J. Mast, “The Schleitheim Brotherly Union and Swiss Brethren Separation” in Separation and the Sword in Anabaptist Persuasion (Cascadia, 2006)

 The Essential Carlstadt

  1. Introduction; “Tract on the Supreme Virtue of Gelassenheit” (17-39).
  2. “The Meaning of The Term Gelassen and Where in Holy Scripture It Is Found” (133-168).
  3. “Regarding the Worship and Homage of the Signs of the New Testament”; “Regarding Vows” (40-99).
  4. “On the Removal of Images and That There Should Be No Beggars Among Christians”; “Circular Letter…About Priests and Monks” (100-132).
  5. “Reasons Why Andreas Carlstadt Remained Silent for a Time and On the True Unfailing Calling”; “The Manifold, Singular Will of God, The Nature of Sin” (169-228).
  6. “Regarding the Two Greatest Commandments: The Love of God and of Neighbor, Matthew 22: [36-40]”; “Whether We Should Go Slowly and Avoid Offending the Weak in Matters Pertaining to God’s Will” (229-268).
  7. “Dialogue or Discussion Booklet on the Infamous and Idolatrous Abuse of the Most Blessed Sacrament of Jesus Christ”; “Regarding the Sabbath and Statutory Holy Days” (269-338).
  8. “Several Main Points of Christian Teaching Which Dr. Luther Brings Andreas Carlstadt Under Suspicion Through False Accusation and Slander”; “Apology by Dr. Andreas Carlstadt Regarding the False Charge of Insurrection Which Has Unjustly Been Made Against Him”; “On the Incarnation of Christ” (339-394).

Background Reading for The Essential Carlstadt

Calvin Pater, Karlstadt as the Father of the Baptist Movements: The Emergence of Lay Protestantism. Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1993.

Ronald J. Sider, Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt: The Development of His Thought 1517-1525. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1974.

  1. “Sermon to the Princes” (Thomas Müntzer)

Sources for “Sermon to the Princes.”

Michael Baylor, trans. and ed., The Radical Reformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991 (11-32).

Peter Matheson, trans. and ed., The Collected Writings of Thomas Müntzer. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988 (226-252).

George Williams, trans. and ed., Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957 (47-72).

Wu Ming presents Thomas Müntzer: Sermon to the Princes. London: Verso, 2010.

Background Reading for “Sermon to the Princes.”

Hans-Jürgen Goertz, Thomas Müntzer: Apocalyptic Mystic and Revolutionary. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993.

The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck

  1. “A Clear Refutation”; “A Clear and Useful Instruction” (43-106).
  2. “Confession of 1539” (107-158).
  3. “The Admonition of 1542” (159-260)
  4. “The Admonition of 1542” (260-302).
  5. “To Caspar Schwenckfeld”; “To Helena von Streicher” (369-389).

Later Writings by Pilgram Marpeck and his Circle

  1. “Response to Caspar Schwenckfeld” (68-157).
  2. “Expose of the Babylonian Whore”; “A New Dialogue” (24-65).

Jörg Maler’s Kunstbuch: Writings of the Pilgram Marpeck Circle

  1. Prefaces 1, 2, 3, & 4; “Concerning the End Time,” Bosch (33-81).
  2. “Concerning Those Dead in Sin” (WPM: 407-417); “Concerning the Libertarians” (WPM: 402-406); “Concerning Love” (WPM: 516-520); “Concerning Unity and the Bride of Christ” (WPM: 521-527), Marpeck (83-113).
  3. “A Beginning of a True Christian Life (The Mystery of Baptism),” Hut (115-136).
  4. “Concerning Hasty Judgments and Verdicts” (WPM: 309-361); “The Cause of the Conflict” (WPM: 362-368), Marpeck (137-201).
  5. “Concerning the Grace of God, Concerning the Little Bottle”; “The Twelve Articles of the Christian Faith, Concerning the True Baptism of Christ”; “A True, Short Gospel to be Preached to the World,” Schiemer (203-267).
  6. “A Simple Prayer, Confession of Sin and Open of Confession of Faith,” Schlaffer and Frick; Interlude 1 (269-303).
  7. “Concerning the Love of God and the Cross of Christ,” Marpeck (WPM: 528-548); Interlude 2, “Whatever is Not Useful”; “An Attempt to Win Him for Christendom,” Maler; Interlude 3: “It Has Been Proclaimed to You O Mortal”; Interlude 4: “Why He Changed His Position on the Oath,” Maler (305-354).
  8. “Concerning the Humanity of Christ, Concerning the Son of Man” (WPM: 507-515), Marpeck; Interlude 5: “Jörg Maler’s Interrogation By Three Evangelical Preachers and One Dominican”; “Concerning the Service and Servants of the Church”(WPM: 549-554), Marpeck; “Gratitude for the Letter We Received”; Interlude 6: “Concerning True Patience”; “Concerning Five Fruits of Repentance” (WPM: 484-497), Marpeck; Interlude 7: “The Time Is Near” (355-402).
  9. “Congregational Order For Christ’s Members in Seven Articles”; “General Admonition and Reminder for Reformation,” Scharnschlager; “War Ordinance of the Heavenly Emperor for His Captains,” Hartmut von Cronberg; “Concerning the Comfort of Christians Under Persecution,” Hans Has von Hallstatt (403-454).
  10. “To the Whole Brotherhood,” Veh; “An Account of Faith,” Maler; “Concerning the Office of Peace,” Bosch; “Concerning the Heritage, Service, and Menstruation of Sin,” Marpeck; Interlude 8: The Athanasian Creed; Interlude 9: Prophecy of Albrecht of Gleicheisen (455-504).
  11. “Confession of Guilt,” Helena von Freyburg; “Whether a Christian Can Hold a Government Office”; “Admonition and Comfort in All Manner of Sorrow”; “An Epistle of Comfort Concerning the Love of God”; “Concerning True Faith and Common Salvation in Christ,” Scharnschlager (505-545).
  12. “Concerning the Christian and Hagarite Churches” (WPM: 390-401); “A Warning Against the Hidden Fire of the Enemy in Our Hearts” (WPM: 498-506); “Concerning the Lowliness of Christ” (WPM: 427-463), Marpeck (547-611).
  13. “To Her Improvement,” Bichel; “On the Inner Church” (WPM: 418-426); “Concerning Three Kinds of People in the Judgment and Kingdom of Christ, Concerning the Peasant Nobility” (WPM: 464-483), Marpeck (613-651).
  14. “An Epistle of Comfort”; “Confession of Faith According to Holy Scripture,” Maler; “Concerning True Godliness,” Entfelder; Interlude 10: Rhyming Maxims; “Concerning the Two Golden Calves and the Two Beasts,” Schienherr (653-726).

Background Reading for The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck and Kunstbuch

Neal Blough, Christ In Our Midst: Incarnation, Church, and Discipleship in the Theology of Pilgram Marpeck. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 2007.

Walter Klaassen and William Klassen, Marpeck: A Life of Dissent and Conformity. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2008.

The Spiritual Legacy of Hans Denck

  1. “Introduction”, “Biographical and Literary Landmarks”, “Denck’s Spirituality” (1-47).
  2. “Denck’s Nuremberg Confession”, “Denck’s Statement on the Nuremberg Proceedings” (51-71).
  3. “Whether God is the Cause of Evil” (72-117).
  4. “Concerning the Law of God” (118-159).
  5. “He Who Truly Loves the Truth”, “Concerning True Love” (160-203).
  6. “The Order of God” (204-241).
  7. “Denck’s Letter to Oecolampadius”, “Protestation and Confession”, “Some Propositions”, Latin Poems and Letters” (242-275).

Background Reading for The Spiritual Legacy of Hans Denck

Werner Packull, Mysticism and the Early South German-Austrian AnabaptistMovement 1525-1531. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1977.

Sources of South German/Austrian Anabaptism

  1. Jörg Haugk von Jüchsen, “A Christian Order of a True Christian”; Hans Hut, “Comparing and Interpreting Divine Scripture”; Hans Hergot, Concerning the New Transformation of the Christian Life” (1-49).
  2. Ambrosius Spitelmaier, “Questions and Answers”; Leonhard Schiemer, “Letter to the Church at Rattenberg” (50-80).
  3. Hans Schlaffer, “A Brief Instruction for the Beginning of a Truly Christian Life” and “Confession and Defense”; Eitelhans Langenmantel, “A Sermon on Sin, Repentance, and Salvation” and “Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer” (81-120).
  4. Simon Schneeweis, “Theological Refutation of the Teachings of the Anabaptists”; Lamprecht Penntz, “Recantation Procedures”; Ursula Hellrigel, “36th Song in the Ausbund”; Hans Nadler, “Declaration”; “Refutation of Nadler” (121-154).
  5. Wolfgang Brandhuber, “Letter to the Church of God at Rattenburg”; Jorg Zaunring, “A Short Interpretation of the Last Supper”; Andreas Althamer and Johann Rurer, “Instructions Concerning Anabaptists”; Georg Gross Pfersfelder, “Concerning Persecution of the Anabaptists” (155-190).
  6. Katharina Hutter, “Testimony at Klausen”; Endres Keller, “Confession”; Urbanus Rhegius, “Justification for the Persecution of Anabaptists”; Sebastian Franck, “On the Anabaptists (191-252).
  7. “Anonymous Hutterite Leaders to Mathes Hasenhan”; “Confession of the Brethren, Taken to Trieste”; Hans Umlauft, “Letter to Stephan Rauchenecker” (253-286).
  8. Paul Glock, “Letter to his Wife Else”; “First Defense”; “Letter to Leonhard Lanzenstiel” (294-328).
  9. Paul Glock, “Letters to Peter Walpot”; “Letter to the Church in Moravia” (329-361).
  10. Walgurga von Pappenheim, “75th Song in the Ausbund”; Hans Schmidt, “Experiences” (362-380).

Background Reading for Sources of South German/Austrian Anabaptism

Werner Packull, Hutterite Beginnings: Communitarian Experiments During the Reformation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U. P., 1995. 

The Theologia Germanica of Martin Luther

  1. Chapters 1-10 (53-72).
  2. Chapters 11-26 (72-98).
  3. Chapters 27-41 (99-130).
  4. Chapters 42-56 (131-149).

Jakob Hutter, Brotherly Faithfulness: Epistles from a Time of Persecution

  1. Letters I-II (5-47).
  2. Letters III-IV (49-74).
  3. Letter V (75-101).
  4. Letters VI-VII (103-135).
  5. Letters VIII-IX (137-183).

Background Reading for Brotherly Faithfulness

Werner Packull, Hutterite Beginnings (especially chapters 8-10).

Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith

  1. Part 1: “The Apostles Creed” (59-83).
  2. Part 1: “Faith, Creation, and the Fall into Sin”; “How People May Again Find God and His Grace” (84-118).
  3. Part 1: “The Christian Way of Life” (119-156).
  4. Part 2: “How God Desires to Have a People…”; “How the House of the Lord is Built Up” (159-180).
  5. Part 2: “Concerning the Covenant of Grace…”; “Concerning the Last Supper” (181-203).
  6. Part 2: “Concerning Oaths…”; “Concerning Governmental Authority…”; “Conclusion” (204-229).

Background Reading for Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith

Werner Packull, Peter Riedemann: Shaper of the Hutterite Tradition (Pandora, 2007).

The Anabaptist Writings of David Joris

  1. “The Anonymous Biography of Joris” (31-103).
  2. “Two Songs of David Joris”; “Of the Wonderful Working of God” (105-125).
  3. “Hear, Hear, Hear, Great Wonder, Great Wonder” (126-147).
  4. “To the Praise of Our Lord…”; “Response to Hans Eisenburg”; “The Building of the Church” (149-181).
  5. “The Strasbourg Disputation, First Day and Second Day” (183-220).
  6. “The Strasbourg Disputation, Third Day” (221-245).
  7. “A Blessed Instruction for the Hungering Burdened Souls” (247-263).
  8. “Letter Concerning Martyrdom”; “The Apology to Countess Anna of Oldenburg (269-286).

Background Reading for The Anabaptist Writings of David Joris

Gary Waite, David Joris and Dutch Anabaptism, 1524-1543 (Wilfred Laurier UP, 1990).

  1. “The Ordinance of God,” Melchior Hoffman; “Confession,” Obbe Philips. Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers (184-225).

The Complete Writings of Menno Simons

  1. “The Blasphemy of John of Leiden” (31-50).
  2. “The Spiritual Resurrection” (51-62).
  3. “Meditation on the Twenty-fifth Psalm” (63-86).
  4. “The New Birth” (87-102).
  5. “Foundation of Christian Doctrine, Part I (103-142).
  6. “Foundation of Christian Doctrine, Part II (142-189).
  7. “Foundation of Christian Doctrine, Part III (190-226).
  8. “Christian Baptism” (227-287).
  9. “Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing” (289-320).
  10. “The True Christian Faith, Parts I-V (321-343).
  11. “The True Christian Faith, Part VI (343-391).
  12. “The True Christian Faith, Parts VII-VIII (391-405).
  13. “A Kind Admonition on Church Discipline (407-418).
  14. “Brief Confession on the Incarnation” (419-454).
  15. “A Clear Account of Excommunication” (455-485).
  16. “Confession of the Triune God” (487-498).
  17. “Confession of the Distressed Christians” (499-522).
  18. “A Pathetic Supplication to All Magistrates”; “Brief Defense to All Theologians (523-540).
  19. “Reply to False Accusations” (541-577).
  20. “The Cross of the Saints” (579-622).
  21. “Reply to Gellius Faber, Parts I-II” (623-681).
  22. “Reply to Gellius Faber, Parts III-V” (681-734).
  23. “Reply to Gellius Faber, Parts VI-IX” (734-781).
  24. “The Incarnation of Our Lord” (783-834).
  25. “Reply to Martin Micron, Parts I-VI” (835-875).
  26. “Reply to Martin Micron, Parts VII-XI” (876-913).
  27. “Epistle to Martin Micron” (915-943).
  28. “The Nurture of Children”; “Meditations and Prayers for Mealtime” (945-958).
  29. “Instruction on Excommunication” (959-998).
  30. “Reply to Sylis and Lemke” (999-1015).
  31. “Sharp Reply to David Joris”; “Admonition to the Amsterdam Melchiorites”; “Earnest Epistle to the Davidians” (1019-1029).
  32. “Exhortation to a Church in Prussia”; “Doctrinal Letter to the Church in Groningen”; “Sincere Appeal to Leonard Boewens’ Wife”; “The Wismar Articles”; “Instruction on Discipline to the Church at Franeker” (1030-1045).
  33. “Encouragement to Christian Believers”; “Instruction on Discipline to the Church at Emden”; “Letter of Consolation to a Sick Saint”; “Personal Note to Rein Edes and the Brethren in Waterhorne”; “Pastoral Letter to the Church at Amsterdam”; “Final Instruction on Marital Avoidance”; “Extract from a Letter” (1046-1064).
  34. “Two Hymns by Menno Simons” (1065-1070).

Background Reading for The Complete Writings of Menno Simons

Helmut Isaak, Menno Simons and the New Jerusalem (Pandora, 2006)

Sjouke Voolstra, Menno Simons: His Image and Message (Bethel College, 1997).

The Writings of Dirk Philips

  1. “Foreword to the Enchiridion”; “Confession of our Faith Concerning God”; “Our Confession Concerning the Creation, Redemption, and Salvation of Humanity” (59-71).
  2. “The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (72-111).
  3. “The Supper of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (112-33)
  4. “The Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (134-51).
  5. “Concerning the True Knowledge of Jesus Christ” (152-72).
  6. “An Apology or Reply” (173-97).
  7. “The Sending of Preachers or Teachers” (198-237).
  8. “The Ban” (238-54)
  9. “The True Knowledge of God” (255-63).
  10. “The Tabernacle of Moses” (264-92).
  11. “The New Birth and the New Creature” (293-315).
  12. “Concerning Spiritual Restitution” (316-49).
  13. “The Congregation of God” (350-82).
  14. “Three Admonitions” (383-425).
  15. “Answer to Sebastian Franck” (445-67).
  16. “The Frisian—Flemish Division: A. Introduction; B. Epistle to Four Cities” (468-88).
  17. “The Frisian—Flemish Division: C. A Short But Fundamental Account” (489-521).
  18. “The Frisian—Flemish Division: D. An Appendix About the Frisian—Flemish Affair; E. Related Letters” (522-51).
  19. “About the Marriage of Christians” (552-77).
  20. “Evangelical Excommunication” (578-610).
  21. “Two Additional Letters” (611-36).
  22. “Hymns” (637-46).

Background Reading for The Writings of Dirk Philips

Jacobus ten Doornkaat Koolman, Dirk Philips: Friend and Colleague of Menno Simons, 1504-1568 (Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 1998).

Biblical Concordance of the Swiss Brethren, 1540

  1. “Fear of God”; “Repentance”; “Discipleship”; “Rebirth”; “Service of God”; “Faith”; Baptism” (1-15).
  2. “Spirit”; “Persecution”; “Bearing Witness”; “Be Not Afraid”; “Patience”; “Love”; “Hope” (16-33).
  3. “Keeping Watch”; “Prayer”; “Fasting”; “Alms”; “Community”; “Righteousness”; “Mercy”; “Sacrifice”; “Concerning the Communion Meal”; “The Temple of God” (34-47).
  4. “Light”; “Wisdom”; “Humility”; “Pride”; “Treasure”; “Tree”; “Do Not Worry”; “No One Can Serve Two Masters”; “Separation”; “Do Not Depend on the Great Crowd” (48-62).
  5. “Brotherly Rebuke”; “God is Not a Respecter of Persons”; “The Kingdom of God Does Not Consist of Words”; “Servant of God”; “Concerning False Prophets and the Antichrist” (63-77).
  6. “”Sin”; “Greed”; “Wrath”; “Useless Chatter”; “Leaven”; “Offence” (77-85).
  7. “Concerning Marriage”; “Concerning Fleshly and Spiritual Whoring”; “Concerning the Desires of the Flesh”; “Excessive Eating and Drinking”; “Human Law”; “Food”; “Idols”; “Idol Sacrifices”; “Idolatrousness”; “One Should Worship God Alone” (86-95).
  8. “Weeds”; “Murder”; “Swearing”; “Political Authority”; “Judgment”; “Vengeance”; “Day of the Lord”; “God Will Repay All According to Their Deeds”; “Reward of the Pious”; “Punishment of the Godless”; “Child Rearing” (96-119).

The Earliest Hymns of the Ausbund: Some Beautiful Christian Songs Composed and Sung in the Prison at Passau, Published in 1564.

  1. Ausbund 81, Hans Betz (47-59).
  2. Ausbund 82, M. Schneider; Etliche Gesang 3; Ausbund 83 (61-69).
  3. Ausbund 84; Ausbund 85, M. Schneider; Ausbund 86; Ausbund 87, M. Schneider (70-85).
  4. Ausbund 88-92, Hans Betz (87-124).
  5. Ausbund 93-95, M. Schneider (125-42).
  6. Etliche Gesang 17, M. Schneider; Ausbund 96-98, M. Schneider (143-68).
  7. Ausbund 99, M. Schneider (169-78).
  8. Ausbund 100; Ausbund 101, M. Schneider and H. Betz (179-91).
  9. Ausbund 102-103, M. Schneider (193-215).
  10. Ausbund 104-106, H. Betz (217-46).
  11. Ausbund 107-109, H. Betz (247-83).
  12. Ausbund 110-112, H. Betz (285-311).
  13. Ausbund 113; Ausbund 114-15, Bernard Schneider (313-31).
  14. Etliche Gesang 38; Ausbund 116 (333-48).
  15. Ausbund 117-18, H. Betz (349-67).
  16. Ausbund 119, Hannβ Gärber; Ausbund 120; Ausbund 121, Hans Zimmerauer (369-88).
  17. Ausbund 122-23, H. Betz (389-405).
  18. Ausbund 124, H. Gärber; Ausbund 125 (407-28).
  19. Ausbund 126, H. Betz; Ausbund 127; Ausbund 128, H. Betz; Ausbund 129-30 (429-50).

Background Reading for The Earliest Hymns of the Ausbund

Paul M. Yoder, Elizabeth Bender, Harvey Graber, and Nelson Springer, Four Hundred Years of the Ausbund (Herald Press, 1964).

More to come!


The Word of God is Solid Ground

volume-2-pg-179Anabaptist Heritage Sunday 2016

First Mennonite Church, October 23, 2016

Grace Mennonite Church, November 20, 2016

II Kings 22

Hebrews 4:12-13

Gerald J. Mast

Before our youngest son was born, Carrie and I struggled to reach consensus on his name. We searched the scriptures for the right-sounding, right-feeling, right-defining name for the wiggling, kicking, and highly active bundle of life that was about to be birthed. Each of us had a fairly substantial list of biblical names that excited us. But there really was no overlap between these two lists.

And so we turned to the next most important book in any serious Mennonite household—the Martyrs Mirror—to see if it might contain a reconciling name. And, thanks be to God, there was one name in that big book of Dutch, German, and Swiss Anabaptist martyrs that appealed to both of us. So our son was named after the Anabaptist bookseller Joriaen Simons, whose life and witness led to a book-rescuing riot—one of my favorite stories in the Martyrs Mirror.

Like Josiah the young king of Judah, Joriaen Simons devoted his life to recovering and proclaiming and following the Word of God. As we heard in our scripture reading, Josiah embraced the discovery of a forgotten book in the storage room of the temple. This neglected book of the law helped the people of Judah to remember the Lord their God whose rule they had disregarded and whose deliverance from slavery they had squandered.

In the time of Joriaen Simons, the book of the law had been rediscovered in the scriptures that had been kept in the storage of monasteries and universities, unavailable for commoners to read and discuss. Using the new technologies of moveable type along with the knowledge of biblical languages, scholars like Martin Luther and William Tyndale gave the scriptures to people at a price they could afford and in language they could understand and discuss and debate. And in reading the scriptures, many people realized that they had forgotten the ways of God and the Word of God.

Next year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of ninety five theses about the theology and practice of indulgences on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, a post that went viral and led to the transformation of European Christendom. The first thesis in Luther’s post says this: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying ‘Do penance…,’ wanted the entire life of the faithful to be one of penitence.”

Luther goes on to argue that the system of indulgences established by the church to monetize guilt trivialized the depth of God’s judgment, as well as the endurance of God’s everlasting mercy. God wants to restore our lives, now and forever, not just let us into heaven after we die by the skin of our teeth. God wants us to live in repentance, not just pay for our sin with money or good deeds. God means to put everything right in this world, not just keep chaos in check. This profound conviction discovered in the scriptures about God’s comprehensive justice and extravagant forgiveness is the central message of the Protestant Reformation, as I understand it. And the ground for this conviction is, as Luther acknowledged in theses 53 and 54, the hearing of the Word of God.

We can see the power of this knowledge of the Word of God in the life of our Anabaptist faith ancestor Joriaen Simons. In a letter from prison that he wrote to his son, he recalled the iniquity of his life before encountering the Word of God. He acknowledged having been proud, selfish, deceitful, and drunken. He confessed to having tried to seduce his neighbor’s daughter. But then, he writes, he began to read the scriptures and to “take the Word of God as my counselor.” This encounter with the Word of God completely changed Joriaen’s life: “I abandoned my ease, voluntarily and uncompelled, and entered upon the narrow way, to follow Christ, my Head, well knowing that if I should follow him to the end, I should not walk in darkness.”

Joriaen’s desire to be a new divine creature who had converted to a “pious, penitient, and godly life,” led to his identification with the Anabaptist movement and to his imprisonment, along with Clement Dirks and Mary Joris in the Haarlem prison at St. John’s gate in 1557. Mary Joris died while giving birth in prison. Clement and Joriaen were executed by fire on April 26, 1557, forty years after Luther posted the ninety-five theses.   According to the court order that is printed in the Martyrs Mirror, the Haarlem authorities condemned Clement and Joriaen because they had been rebaptized, because they held pernicious views about the sacraments and ceremonies of the church, and because they sold, read, and discussed false books. The sentence of execution called them “disturbers of the common peace and of the Christian religion.”

Joriaen Simons, Clement Dirks, and Mary Joris were like many Christian believers in the Reformation era who heard the Word of God and obeyed it—as witnessed by the thousands of other testimonies in the Martyrs Mirror, but also in the martyr books of Catholics and Protestants during that violent and uncertain time. Tonight at Bluffton University in Ramseyer Auditorium, beginning at 7 p.m., there will be a performance of a readers theatre drama about the witness of another Anabaptist martyr—Jacques d’Auchy—whose confession against all criticism by the authorities of European civil religion and official Christendom was that “I have not forsaken the Word of God, for my faith is founded on the Word of God, and not upon human beings, nor upon human doctrines.” I encourage you to take some time tonight to attend this performance by Bluffton University students and to be inspired by Jacques d’Auchy’s witness.

Today I want to reflect on this Word of God that so inspired and changed the lives of our faith ancestors. What did Joriaen Simons mean when he said that he took the Word of God for his counselor?

For Protestants as well as for Anabaptists in the Reformation era, knowing the Word of God is closely identified with reading and hearing the Bible. In the words of scripture, the Word of God speaks across the centuries, displaying the revelation of God’s Word to people in changing settings and amidst new challenges. The covenant that God made with Abraham is a covenant that is also made with us when we read the Bible and receive God’s promises. The message given by the angel of the Lord to Hagar is a promise of survival and significance that is good news for us as well when we find it in the Bible. The call Moses heard from the burning bush and the law he received on Mt. Sinai invite us through the scriptures also to speak truth to power and to remember the Lord our God who brought us out of slavery from Egypt. And the invitation to Mary of Nazareth to bear and birth the Son of God is an invitation to receive and offer Jesus Christ in our bodies and in our burdens. With Mary we may magnify the Lord and rejoice in God our Savior. And with the disciples, we may respond to the call of Jesus Christ to lay down our lives and our weapons to follow after him.

Indeed, the Word of God speaks to us in the Bible. But for Anabaptists like Joriaen Simons the Word of God is not limited to the words of scripture. The Word of God is Jesus Christ, as revealed in scripture, but also as revealed in the creation around us and in our own inner experiences of sacred knowledge. Hans Hut, for example wrote that in the thriving and suffering of the creatures all around us, “nothing is signified and preached other than Christ the crucified one alone, not only Christ the head but the whole Christ with all his members.” Hans Denck famously confessed that “Holy Scripture I hold above all human treasure but not as high as the Word of God that is living, powerful, and eternal—unattached and free of all the elements of this world.”

Denck is right. The Word of God is alive and on the loose and it will not be constrained by our theological management strategies. It will not stay between the covers of our Bibles—silent until we bother to open them and begin to read. The writer of the book of Hebrews describes the Word of God as living and active, sharper than any two edged sword. It will overtake us, finally, because it is the source of our life and will remain after our death—the hope of the resurrection. In the time remaining I’d like to discuss three characteristics of this living and active Word of God, testified to in the scriptures and made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.


First, we know that the Word of God is a creating Word—the Word by which the Lord God spoke into existence the heavens and the earth. By the Word of God, a hundred billion galaxies and space itself exploded into being from nothing or next to nothing, expanding furiously from the infinitely dense and incomprehensibly tiny singularity that physicists believe contained all the mass and space and time that exists in the universe. By the Word of God, wiggling, kicking, and highly active bundles of life are birthed into existence from the desire that joins bodies and multiplies them. By the Word of God, texts are formed from letters, sentences from words, chapters from paragraphs, and the exploding and expanding and birthing universe is named and ordered and communicated through speech and writing and singing and painting and dancing.

Mennonite theologian Gordon Kaufman has suggested that this powerful and serendipitous creativity that brings worlds into existence—both in physical space and in our imaginative experiences—is the divine mystery to which we refer when we say the word God. According to Kaufman, this divine mystery is most fully expressed in the creativity and novelty displayed in the life and teachings of Jesus. It seems to me that this is a helpful way of understanding the claims made in the first chapter of the gospel of John that in Jesus Christ, the Word of God became flesh and dwelled among us. John says that from the Word of God, Jesus Christ, all things came into being, and that what came into being through this Word was life and light that the darkness will not overcome. The Word of God is a creating and sustaining and enlightening and life-giving word.


The Word of God is also a dividing word. In creating the heavens and the earth, the Word of God separates light from darkness, day from night, and land from water. When God calls a people forth from the nations to be a light and a blessing, they are commanded to reject the practices of enslavement and violence practiced by the world’s empires. From the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Paul, the Word of God invites us: “come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you…and ye shall be my sons and daughters” (II Cor. 6:17 KJV). Jesus confirms the divisiveness of the Word of God when he sends his disciples out to proclaim the Good News in Matthew 10. He quotes the prophet Micah: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” In this time of church conflict, many of us can confirm that the good news divides our families, but also our denomination: congregation against congregation, conference against conference, one’s foes are members of one’s own church family.

But, lest we become to confident that we are on the right side of gospel conflict, in the text from Hebrews 4 we learn that the Word of God not only sets people against each other, but that it gets inside of our very skin, turning us against ourselves “piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow, it is able to judge the thoughts and intents of the heart” (12). Much as we would like to hide the sin that clings to even our well-intended actions; much as we want to pretend to goodness, to life without guilt or confession, the dividing and judging Word of God will not rest until we are “naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to which we must render an account” (13).

In the story of King Josiah and the recovery of the book of the law, the prophetess Huldah, like all faithful prophets, makes it clear that catastrophe follows from ignoring the Word of God; there will be hell to pay when the people of God forget God. The more mild-mannered Gordon Kaufman, in his book, Jesus and Creativity, restates this judgment against human forgetfulness in a polite way: “we humans should always seek to live and act in response to the creativity going on in the world roundabout us and in our lives; for if we do not so live and act, we will soon be out of tune and out of touch with what is really happening in the world” (8). Gordon Kaufman is worried about the same catastrophe of forgetfulness as the prophetess Hulda.

But the prophetess Huldah, like all faithful prophets, has good news to follow the bad news: “because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord…and because you have torn your clothes and wept before me…I will gather you to your ancestors, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring on this place.” (II Kings 22:19-20). Martin Luther had it right, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying ‘Do penance…,’ wanted the entire life of the faithful to be one of penitence.” Joriaen Simons also was on the right track when he converted to a “pious, penitent, and godly life.” Calling out and confessing sin is the faithful response to judgment and the first step toward the peace that the Word of God seeks to fulfill in the world.

We should acknowledge here that calling out and confessing the iniquities of our communities and of our own hearts leads to both peace and disaster. When we acknowledge the sin that has been uncovered by the Word of God, there is often conflict and suffering that follows. In the story of King Josiah’s reformation, the response to the light of the law includes a great deal of interreligious violence: altars to the gods of the Moabites and the Samaritans are desecrated and their priests killed. In the image from the Martyrs Mirror printed on the cover of our bulletin, we also see suffering and violence: Joriaen and Clement have been executed on the left, the priests and the magistrates are fleeing the riotous crowd of protesters in the background, and in the foreground, controversial books are being burned—no doubt some of them translations of the Bible considered to be false and heretical.

There is suffering in this image, yet also liberty: books and Bibles flying through the air like the birds of the sky, finding their way into the hands of readers hungry for knowledge, yearning to encounter God’s Word written. What a dramatic picture of the dividing and discerning Word of God on the loose, inviting repentance and bringing both salvation and chaos!


But the Word of God does not stop with the catastrophe of judgment. The Word of God is also and finally a reconciling Word, a Word that restores what has been broken and gathers what has been scattered. The story of Josiah’s reformation anticipates this reconciliation even amidst the killing of the priests and the raiding of shrines and tombs described at the end of II Kings chapter 23. We read that during these raids one tomb was left alone: that of the man of God from Judah and the prophet from Samaria.

This is a reference to the story in First Kings 13 of a man of God from the southern kingdom of Judah visiting his enemies in the northern kingdom of Israel three hundred years earlier during the rule of Jeroboam. The man of God—a faithful Judean—prophesied that neglect of God would lead to disaster, including the destruction of the shrines and tombs at Bethel. Of course, King Jeroboam, like most people who are in charge of earthly kingdoms, didn’t much care for this kind of prophecy. He reached out his hand in anger toward the prophet from Judah and received a withered hand in return. At this point his anger turned to repentance and thanks to the prayers of the prophet, the king’s hand was restored. When King Jeroboam invited the prophet from Judah to eat and drink with him, the prophet shunned him: no eating with the ungodly enemies in the north—those who would eventually be known as Samaritans.

But then the prophet from Judah received a second dinner invitation. An old prophet from Bethel invited him to share a meal. At first the Judean prophet said no, but then, in a risky act of grace, gave up shunning and sat down together at the table to eat and drink with his enemy—the Bethel prophet. This cross-cultural act of reconciliation was indeed risky: a lion ended up killing the man of God from Judah before he could return home. But, refusing to be defeated by violence and death, the prophet from Bethel buried the prophet from Judah in his own grave and requested to be buried with him at the time of his death. During the violence and destruction of Josiah’s reformation, three hundred years later, the bones of these enemies who had become friends—Jew and Samaritan—were left as they were, gathered together in their tomb, reconciled and at peace.

As Christians we believe that the reconciling Word is made most visible in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ—a Jewish rabbi who famously shared water and conversation with a Samaritan woman and who loved and forgave his enemies, even unto his death on a cross. According to the writer of the epistle to the Ephesians, this crucified and resurrected body of Jesus Christ has become our peace, breaking down the dividing wall, putting to death hostility, and reconciling all of God’s children to God in one body (2:13-16). By faith, we know that this reconciling Word of God brings together those who have been divided: Jews and Gentiles, Christians and Muslims, Protestants and Catholics. And so we pray for the unity of the body of Christ even now, after nearly five hundred years of Reformation schism and division—some of which has illuminated the truth of God’s Word and much of which has also led to violence and suffering and death.

I conclude by observing with Karl Barth that the Word of God not only reconciles hostile groups; it also makes peace within us, comforting and consoling and restoring our freedom. In the first volume of the great Church Dogmatics—which is focused on the doctrine of the Word of God—Barth reflects on what it means to bind ourselves to the Word of God. The Word of God bears our sins, when we confess and acknowledge them, and leaves us free from the anxiety that comes from the knowledge of good and evil. When we pray, “thy will be done,” according to Barth, we are admitting that “the burden of my own and of others’ sins does not lie upon me. It lies solely and entirely upon Jesus Christ, upon the Word of God” (I.2: 275).

Giving our lives over to the Word of God is a defining act of freedom, one that accepts the Word of God as a trustworthy and reliable counselor, just as Joriaen Simons did. When we turn our lives over to the Word of God in this way our relationship with the Word of God, Jesus Christ, becomes personal and, to use Barth’s words, “consists always in our knowing and saying and confirming and attesting and living out the truth: that He careth for you” (I.2: 275).

Brothers and sisters, the creating, dividing, and reconciling Word of God is solid ground, “no source of freedom more profound,” to use the words of the old Anabaptist hymn we are about to sing (HWB 314). As it was for King Josiah, for the prophetess Huldah, for Joriaen Simons, for Clement Dirks, and for Mary Joris, may it also be in our lives, God’s Word our sure foundation. Amen.

19th Century Swiss Mennonite Piety

19th Century Swiss Mennonite Piety: Die Ernsthafte Christenpflicht

Swiss Mennonite 175 celebration, August 30, 2015


Gerald J. Mast

A recent issue of New Yorker magazine carried an article entitled “The Higher Life”. This article described a new family of smartphone apps designed to help people practice techniques of mindfulness as a way to cope with the stress and distraction of living in a digital age. With names like “Headspace”, “Insight Timer”, and “GPS for the Soul”, these digital therapy apps offer meditation exercises, mood check-ins, and other routines that address frustration, distraction, and anxiety by reconnecting body and mind with the simplicity of presence. While these apps seem to draw most commonly on Eastern religious traditions such as Buddhism, they all seem to be after some version of the mindfulness described by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Don’t worry about your life and don’t worry about tomorrow but seek first the kingdom of God.”

Reading this article, I was reminded of how my own abilities to worry less about my life and focus more on the Kingdom of God have been strengthened by a little Mennonite prayer book that was passed down to me from my Amish great grandmother Elizabeth Hershberger Swartzentruber. This German book of prayers is called Die Ernsthafte Christenpflicht. A recent English translation of this book is called Prayer Book for Earnest Christians. While researching the 19th century piety of the Swiss Mennonites in the Bluffton/Pandora area, I discovered that the 19th century Swiss Mennonites in this area were reading and using the same devotional materials that my Amish Mennonite ancestors were reading and using in Holmes County, including Die Ernsthafte Christenpflicht.

So, in the short time I have this afternoon I’d like to explore briefly the prayers in this little book, much beloved by our faith ancestors, to see what they tell us about how our ancestors coped with the struggles and challenges of their lives, and to consider what we might learn from these prayers about the challenges to mindfulness and faithfulness we face amidst the stress and distraction of our time. I hope to persuade you that spending $10 on a translation of Ernsthafte Christenpflicht is a better investment in mindfulness than signing up for the Headspace app, which currently costs $12.95 a month.

First, I’d like to talk for a bit about the basic features of Christian faith and piety that appear in Swiss Mennonite devotional books like Christenpflicht. And then I’ll talk about how this piety is expressed in prayers for a variety of ordinary occasions.

The article by Greg Hoersten that appeared in The Lima News on Wednesday (August 26, 2015) highlights the hard work and uncertainty faced by the early Swiss Mennonite pioneers when they first moved to this community, starting in 1833. The grit and determination of these hardy pioneers is often cited as the basis for their success in building a thriving and ultimately wealthy immigrant community that grew into one of the largest Mennonite settlements in North America by 1900. However, when we encounter the prayers they prayed, the songs they sang, and the letters they wrote, we find a more fully developed picture. I’ve tried to provide this more fully developed picture in my essay that appears in the program booklet. For this short presentation, I would like to offer just a brief sketch of this piety through an examination of Swiss Mennonite prayers from Christenpflicht.

The prayers of the Swiss Mennonites all accept the premise that God’s ways are not our ways and that we are happiest when we yield ourselves to the ways of God; rather than seeking to control the world around us for ourselves. The three most common expressions of piety found in Christenpflicht are gratitude, humility, and attachment to God’s people. Most of the prayers are addressed from the posture of the collective “we”, including prayers that are clearly meant for individual devotion. I’ll illustrate these spiritual themes of gratitude, humility, and attachment to one another by exploring three different types of prayers that show up in the prayer book: daily prayers, church prayers, and crisis prayers.


The first type of prayer is daily prayer such as morning and evening prayers and prayers before and after meals. The daily prayer that has most captured my imagination is the first prayer in the prayerbook, a morning prayer. As a person who does not particularly like mornings and who can easily find reasons to be grumpy when I wake up, the words of this prayer provide language for expressing thankfulness that I don’t necessarily feel at first:

“O heavenly Father! You have again let this day dawn. Help us to remember that it is your gracious gift. Teach us to understand gratefully why you are again bestowing this glorious gift. As a merciful Father, you let your beautiful sun rise above our heads. Thus may we spend all the days of our lives following your will, preparing ourselves for the eternally long and everlasting day that you will create through your grace.”

What I love about these words, which did not come from me but which I have come to receive as a gift, is that they express both gratitude for the day and also an honest need to be taught the purpose of the day. “Thank you for this day and help us know what to do with it.” Even when I don’t get around to reading the whole prayer, which is quite lengthy, this two-part mantra has become part of my morning consciousness.

Note that this prayer is written to be prayed by an individual even as the individual speaks as part of an “us.” “Help us to remember that this day is a gift. Teach us to know what to do with this day. May we spend all of our days following your will.” Praying this prayer reminds me that I come to God with my brothers and sisters, that I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and that I am not alone in my struggle to know the reason for the day and the purpose of my life. And all of this before my morning cup of coffee. It is wonderful to let the words of our faith ancestors speak for us and with us, when we cannot muster the words ourselves.


Another kind of prayer found in the Christenpflicht prayer book is church prayer: prayers for communion, prayers for baptism, prayers for funerals, prayers before and after the sermon. Since the prayers before and after the sermon will be part of our worship service tonight, I’d like to call attention to a couple of things about these sermon prayers.

For one thing, these prayers assume that both the preacher and the congregation need help in apprehending God’s Word: “With our human limitations, we are not worthy, skilled or able to proclaim your divine Word, to hear it, much less to keep it, without your divine, gracious aid and the participation of your good Holy Spirit.” As someone who studies communication and is fully aware of the challenges that pertain to understanding human words, even when they are uttered in the context of the same culture and language, it makes a great deal of sense to me that knowing and understanding God’s Word is impossible without the help of the Holy Spirit. These sermon prayers help us to express the proper humility that should attend our efforts to know and understand the will and Word of God.

The other thing is that these sermon prayers assume that grasping the Word of God is not merely a matter of intellectual apprehension. Rather, the Word of God is something that we consume and that consumes us. The most memorable sentence from the prayer before the sermon for me is this one: “Open as well the ears of our hearts, and give us obedient hearts.” That is a striking and vivid image: open the ears of our hearts. I take this to be an expression of hope that not only our intellect but also our desires may be expanded and even transformed to align with the desires and will and Word of God, so that we want to do what God is calling us to do. “Open the ears of our hearts” –these are good words with which to prepare ourselves for the sermon in church on Sunday morning or for any human speech or discussion or text that we expect might carry words of truth and transcendence for us.


Another kind of prayer found in Christenpflicht is what I will call crisis prayers—prayers in response to life challenges and losses such as illness, poverty, conflict, persecution, sorrow, or the realization that we have sinned. In most of these prayers dealing with a crisis there is an expression of gratitude, an acknowledgement of failure or helplessness or uncertainty, and there is the expression of trust and yielding to the will and work of God in all circumstances, not necessarily in that order. For example, in the prayer for comfort during physical poverty, the prayer moves from an acknowledgement of the “cross of physical poverty” to a realization that “the one who is poor is like a stranger on earth, whom no one wants to acknowledge, in whom no one takes interest.” The prayer then expresses confidence in God’s attention to the poor: “The Lord raises the thirsty from the dust, and lifts high the poor from the filth, placing them among the princes and letting them inherit the throne of honor. “ The prayer states in several ways that it is “better to have little and be righteous, than to have a large income and live unjustly.” And then there is a kind of encomium to the justice of God along with the expectation that God is going to finally put everything right. The conclusion is a beautifully poetic expression of the desire to rest in God’s care: “O Eternal Light! O Eternal Salvation! O Eternal Love! O Eternal Sweetness! Let me see you, let me experience you, let me taste you. O Eternal Beloved One, O Eternal Comfort, O Eternal Joy, let me rest in you.”

I should acknowledge that the prayers in this book don’t always fit very well with my own thinking about God or my own experience of God. There are passages in the prayer book that really trouble me; for example, prayers that assume sickness to be an affliction sent by God to teach a lesson. I don’t think that we need to accept that sickness and suffering is necessarily a punishment by God in order be helped by this prayer to discover what God might wish to teach us amidst the sickness or suffering that we are enduring.

Other aspects of the prayer book are counterintuitive to me in ways that I have found helpful. A very common thread in these prayers is the acknowledgment that I am a sinner and the request for forgiveness of sins. One such prayer is quite comprehensive, asking forgiveness for “all of our sins and transgressions, both hidden and public, committed knowingly and unknowingly”, sins committed “with or without our awareness, with words or with actions, secretly or openly, against our better judgment and conscience, against your law, and against your holy gospel.” This persistent thread of confession for me invites a kind of non-anxious humility that acknowledges failures and iniquities while refusing to be paralyzed by such sin.

There is also in this prayer book much prayer for enemies and asking God to forgive the sins of our enemies. Indeed the persistent expression of enemy love and desire for reconciliation is one of the most profound features of the spiritual grammar in this book. For example, there are a number of prayers that deal with division and schism in the church, one of them entitled “Prayer for Unity of Mind and Understanding in Godly Matters”. This prayer acknowledges God as a God of peace, love, and unity, not of conflict and division. It goes on to say that God alone can “establish and maintain unity”, that God lets “the world divide and splinter into pieces, so that with the false wisdom of disunity which can only lead to disgrace, the world might turn again to [God].” “Thus,” the prayer concludes, “may we turn away from every division and become of one mind, will, conscience, spirit, and understanding, aligned according to Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

One wonders whether there were Swiss Mennonites who prayed this prayer during the various church schisms of the last 175 years that ripped through this community. If so, then perhaps this joyful gathering here today is one answer to their prayers.

The Costly Discipleship of Anna Jansz

Anna Janz

(I was asked to tell the story of Anna Jansz as part of the sermon during Anabaptist Heritage Sunday at my congregation (First Mennonite Church, Bluffton). The first part of the sermon by one of our pastors reflected on the call to discipleship represented by the story of Jesus inviting Peter, Andrew, James, and John to leave their nets and to follow him. In this first section, our pastor also discussed the costly decision of Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock to defy the authorities in Zurich, Switzerland and to baptize one another upon confession of faith in January of 1525, thereby inaugurating the Anabaptist stream of Christian discipleship. My remarks about Anna Jansz then followed.)

In order to find our way into the story of Anna Jansz, we must travel from Zurich, Switzerland in 1525 to the north German city of Münster in 1535. The Anabaptism of Münster and of Anna Jansz differed quite a bit from the Anabaptism of Zurich and of Felix Manz, although they also shared much in common. So, let’s make that journey.

Following their public displays of baptismal disobedience in January 1525, Conrad Grebel and George Blaurock joined with other Anabaptist missionaries to preach the restoration of the New Testament church and to establish Anabaptist communities in cities and towns throughout Europe. In the wake of the bloody failure of the German Peasants Revolt during that same year, these Anabaptist conventicles now were the main expression of protest against the corrupted territorial church system and its support for unjust economic practices by the nobility and their political allies. Former revolutionaries such as Hans Hut and Melchior Rinck became Anabaptist evangelists and church planters, preaching that the kingdom of God was becoming visible in a restored church, where members were giving up wealth and weapons in order to live in obedience to the rule of Christ.

Melchior Hoffman, a furrier and eloquent Lutheran preacher who became radicalized during time spent among Anabaptist circles in Strasbourg, took the message to North Germany and the Netherlands, where Anabaptist convictions about discipleship, peace, and communal sharing took root in the hearts and minds of men and women yearning for a new day of holiness and justice. Most Anabaptist communities practiced peaceful and voluntary sharing of life and resources in the manner of the apostolic church following Pentecost. But they also anticipated the day in which the just and holy relationships they were experiencing together would take over the whole world, through the powerful and earth shattering return of Jesus Christ, which would be preceded by apostles and prophets proclaiming Christ’s final victory over the godless and the evildoers.

In some circles, Anabaptist leaders influenced by Melchior Hoffman’s visions of Christ’s second coming began to teach that it was time to prepare the way for Christ’s return by establishing the New Jerusalem in an earthly city. These expectations eventually became focused in the North German city of Münster in Westphalia, where Anabaptist groups appointed emissaries to travel throughout Europe with an invitation to Christians yearning for a more just and peaceful world. Come to Münster, they urged, where the new day is arriving and justice is being accomplished. As thousands of hopeful radical Christians streamed into Münster to take up residence there, the Anabaptist numbers in the city increased to the extent that the Anabaptists were able to win a majority of seats on the city council during the election in February of 1534.

Before long, the Anabaptist majority on the council had abolished private property and appointed deacons to redistribute the city’s wealth to the poor. Infant baptism was abolished and adult baptism was mandated as a requirement to live in Münster. As Catholic and Lutheran Christians fled the city and the Anabaptists celebrated with festivals and preaching services, the prince-bishop of the region laid siege to the city with hundreds of hired soldiers. A long and bloody conflict was about to unfold.

The Anabaptists armed themselves against the prince-bishop’s soldiers and began to take survival measures; they also bolstered their spirits with street theatre and music and singing. The most popular song of the Münster revolution was the “Trumpet Song,” its lyrics bursting with brilliant apocalyptic images drawn from the Bible: “I can hear the trumpet sounding, from far off I hear her blast! In Jerusalem, Edom, in Bashan, the heralds cry loud and low, their sound brings this to mind: prepare the wedding feast, All you who love the King! The gate is open! The King is preparing a feast from the flesh of kings and princes. Come all you birds, gather quickly. I will feed you the flesh of princes. As they have done, so shall be done to them. You servants of the Lord, be of good cheer. Wash your feet in the blood of the godless. This shall be the reward for those who robbed us.”

The writer of this bold and bitter hymn was a young woman named Anna Jansz. Her story reminds us that the way of the cross includes confusion and conflict; that in baptism we become attached to the broken body of Christ; and that genuine discipleship is indeed costly.

Anna Jansz was born in 1510 to a well-to-do family living in the town of Briel on the island of Putten near the North Sea coastline of South Holland. Following her marriage to Arent Jansz, she and her husband accepted baptism in 1534 from Maynaart von Emden, a Münsterite Anabaptist leader who had been sent to Briel to announce the coming of the New Jerusalem in Münster and to baptize converts to the Anabaptist cause. Anna was twenty-four years old when she made the decision to be baptized into a despised and illegal company of radical Christians, a decision that changed her life dramatically. Not long after her baptism a group of Anabaptists marched through the streets of Amsterdam waving swords and announcing that the day of the Lord was at hand. Their goal was to stir up an Anabaptist takeover of Amsterdam similar to what had happened in Münster. The authorities in the region responded by arresting Anabaptists and their leaders in the cities throughout Holland, including in the town of Briel. As a result of this Anabaptist purge, Anna’s husband fled to England.

In the meantime, Anna made the acquaintance of David Joris from Delft, leader of a growing movement of pacifist Anabaptists who rejected the violence of Münster and advocated instead for an inward, peaceful, and spiritual restoration of the way of Christ.

The peaceful and more spiritually-oriented vision advocated by Joris became increasingly attractive to many Anabaptists as the Münster Anabaptist kingdom descended into brutal and arbitrary tyranny by its leaders. These leaders eventually established polygamy and required all women aged fifteen or older to be assigned to a husband. This was in a city where women now outnumbered men two to one. Dissenters against polygamy and critics of the city’s Anabaptist leadership were quickly executed and the dreams for a New Jerusalem turned into a nightmare of hunger, starvation, and bloody conflict due to the siege from without and the divisions from within.

Eventually, disillusioned Anabaptists betrayed the city to the prince-bishop by passing crucial information about Münster’s defenses to the besiegers outside the gates. The prince-bishop’s armies overran Münster, slaughtering Anabaptists by the hundreds for two bloody days and placing the tortured and broken bodies of its leaders into three iron cages that were then hoisted into the spire of St. Lambert’s Church, where they still hang today as a remembrance and a warning.

Like many former Anabaptist revolutionaries whose dreams of a just and holy New Jerusalem were betrayed at Münster, Anna Jansz renounced violence and joined the renewal movement of David Joris. She became a close spiritual friend and confidante of Joris and encouraged him in his leadership. This relationship troubled Anna’s husband, however, and he returned from England to confront what he regarded as an adulterous attachment between David Joris and Anna, and to convince other Anabaptist leaders to investigate the relationship.

As a result of an intervention by concerned Anabaptist ministers, Anna apparently followed her husband back to England in 1536, where he disappeared from the historical record, very possibly the victim of the renewed persecution of Anabaptists by Thomas Cromwell in 1538. In any event, Anna returned to the Netherlands in 1538 with her fifteen-month old child Isaiah and an older female companion named Christina Barents; shortly after her return she and Christina were reported to authorities by a fellow traveller who had heard them singing an Anabaptist song. This betrayal led to their arrest and imprisonment.

Anna and Christina were sentenced to death by drowning on January 23, 1539. The authorities in Rotterdam carried out the executions the following day.

As she was being led to her execution, Anna pleaded for someone in the crowd to care for her son, offering the entirety of her considerable fortune as a reward for raising him. A local baker responded to her request, agreeing to raise her son Isaiah and when he was old enough to give him a letter Anna had written for him while in prison.

The Martyrs Mirror account says that the baker who accepted Anna’s son and her fortune became very prosperous, adding two breweries to his holdings, and that Isaiah grew up to be the mayor of the city that had killed his mother. The man who betrayed Anna and Christina to the authorities by reporting their seditious singing, on the other hand, was killed when a bridge he was standing on collapsed while he was on the way to witness Anna’s execution.

Anna’s Testament to her son is among the most beloved of the many letters from prison included in the Martyrs Mirror. It was printed initially as a pamphlet that also included her Trumpet Song and it was later incorporated into the first Dutch Mennonite book of martyr stories and hymns—the Sacrifice of the Lord, which was first published in 1562 as a small pocket sized book and went through at least eleven increasingly larger editions. Anna’s Testament appeared as the third entry in the volume, following the account of Stephen’s martyrdom from the book of Acts and the story of Swiss Brethren martyr Michael Sattler. The story was included in all of the many editions of this little book and in the much larger Martyrs Mirror that eventually grew out of this book. In the 1685 edition of the Martyrs Mirror, the editors included not only Anna’s Testament, but also a letter Anna had written to David Joris along with more detail about her life. The 1685 Martyrs Mirror also included the Jan Luyken engraving of Anna giving her son to the baker prior to her execution, found on the cover of our bulletin today. The Swiss Brethren hymnbook, the Ausbund, also included a song attributed to Anna that is a poetic rendition of her letter to Isaiah.

I would like to conclude this morning by letting Anna’s words speak to us from across the centuries. Her voice has not been silenced by the confusion and violence of the world she confronted with hope and conviction. Her discipleship was indeed costly and she invites us to follow the challenging yet rewarding path she took through baptism: the way of the apostles and prophets and martyrs—the way of Jesus Christ. Hear the words of Anna Jansz of Rotterdam, written to her son Isaiah and preserved by our faith ancestors for our encouragement (these are excerpts from her Testament):

My son, hear the instruction of your mother; open your ears to hear the words of my mouth. Behold, I go today the way of the prophets, apostles and martyrs, and drink of the cup of which they all have drank. I go, I say, the way which Christ Jesus, the eternal word of the Father, full of grace and truth, the Shepherd of the sheep, who is the Life, Himself went, and who went this way and not another, and who had to drink of this cup, even as He said: I have a cup to drink of, and a baptism to baptized with. Having passed through, He calls His sheep, and His sheep hear his voice, and follow Him wherever he goes; for this is the way of the true fountain. This way was traveled by the royal priests who came from the rising of the sun, who entered into the ages of eternity and who had to drink of this cup.

This way was travelled by the dead under the altar, who cry, saying: Lord, Almighty God, when will you avenge the blood that has been shed? This is the way in which walked the twenty-four elders, who stand before the throne of God, and cast their crowns and harps before the throne of the Lamb, falling down upon their faces, and saying: Lord, unto You alone be praise, glory, and power, and strength, who shall avenge the blood of your servants and ministers, and shall through yourself gain the victory. Great be Your name, Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.

My son, if you desire to enter into the regions of the holy world and into the inheritance of the saints, follow after them; search the Scriptures, and it shall show you their ways. The angel who spoke to the prophet said: A holy city has been built, and set upon a broad field, and is full of all good things; the entrance thereof is narrow, and set in a dangerous place to fall, like as if there were a fire on the right hand, and on the left deep water, and only one path between them both, even between the fire and the water. See, my son, this way has no retreats; there are no roundabout or crooked little paths; whosoever departs to the right or to the left inherits death.

Therefore, my child, do not regard the great number, nor walk in their ways. But where you hear of a poor, simple, cast-off little flock, which is despised and rejected by the world, join them; for where you hear of the cross, there is Christ. Flee the shadow of this world; become united with God; fear Him alone, keep His commandments, observe all His words, write them on the table of your heart, bind them upon your forehead, speak day and night of His law and you will be a pleasant tree and a sprout in the courts of the Lord, a beloved plant growing up in Zion. Take the fear of the Lord to be your father, and wisdom shall be the mother of your understanding. Do not be afraid of people, forsake your life rather than depart from the Truth.

Honor the Lord in the works of your hands, and let the light of the Gospel shine through you. Love your neighbor. Deal with an open, warm heart your bread to the hungry, clothe the naked, and do not tolerate having two of anything, because there are always those who are in need. All that the Lord grants you from the sweat of your brow, beyond that which you need, share with those who love God. O my son, let your life be conformed to the gospel, and the God of peace sanctify your soul and body, to his praise. Amen.

Martyrs Mirror. First English translation by I. Daniel Rupp. Lancaster, Pa., David Miller, 1837. (since this translation is based on the 1748-49 German translation, which was based on the second Dutch edition of 1685, it includes more detail about Anna’s life, including her letter to David Joris) pp. 379-82. The engraving by Jan Luyken depicting Anna giving up her son Isaiah for adoption prior to her execution is found in the 1685 Dutch edition (II:143) .

Martyrs Mirror. English translation by Joseph Sohm. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1985 (The English translation currently in print was first published in 1886 and is based on the 1660 Dutch edition, which only included Anna’s Testament) pp. 453-54.

The Anabaptist Writings of David Joris. Gary Waite, trans. and ed. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1994. (This collection of writings includes an anonymous biography of David Joris that describes the relationship between Anna and David Joris) pp. 51-52.

Profiles of Anabaptist Women. C. Arnold Snyder and Linda A. Huebert Hecht., eds. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1996. (This book includes a profile of Anna Janz by Werner Packull that puts many of the details about Anna Janz together in a coherent way. There is also a new translation of her letter to David Joris and a translation of three verses from her Trumpet Song) pp. 336-51.

Elizabeth’s Manly Courage: Testimonials and Songs of Martyred Anabaptist Women in the Low Countries. Hermina Joldersma and Louis Grijp, eds. and trans. Milwaukee, Wis., Marquette University Press, 2001. (This book includes a complete translation of Anna’s Trumpet Song) pp. 56-73.

Be At Peace Among Yourselves

Sermon Given at Madison Mennonite Church, May 18, 2014

Text: I Thessalonians 5

I want to reflect with you this evening on the ways in which the God of Jesus Christ comes to us in our times of helplessness and catastrophe in order to save us, and also to transform the broken world that surrounds us. The scripture text that we have from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians helps us to understand how our God makes peace by confronting the corrupted and destructive forces that still presume to rule the world and that continue to bring about its ruin. To unpack Paul’s view of God-directed social change, I want to follow the main points of I Thessalonians, chapter 5, as they have been given to us. First, the day of the Lord is coming. Second, this knowledge reminds us to live as children of the day. And finally, when we live in the light of the day, we will be at peace among ourselves.


So, let’s begin with the “day of the Lord.” What does Paul mean when he talks about the day of the Lord coming like a thief in the night? What did “the day of the Lord” mean for Paul and his audience at Thessalonica?

We can know this, fortunately, because we have access to the same Hebrew Scriptures that the early church regarded as trustworthy sources of divine knowledge. The prophets of old that they read and discussed made many references to the “day of the Lord,” usually in conjunction with a catastrophe that arises in response to pervasive idolatry, excessive wealth, and overwhelming injustice.

The second chapter of Isaiah, for example, contains a striking reference to the day of the Lord. This chapter begins with the familiar and beloved prophecy about the word of the Lord coming forth from Jerusalem to judge between nations, and to arbitrate between the peoples, who will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. But following this passage, there is a listing of all the ways in which the house of Jacob—God’s people Israel—has forsaken God, piled up an immense amount of silver and gold, horses and chariots, and given themselves over to idolatry and pride. In response to such wealth and military accumulation, and the pride and idolatry that goes with it, the prophet announces that the day of the Lord will come against “all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high…against every high tower and against every fortified wall…” The day of the Lord is described in this chapter as a terrifying event in which people will abandon all of their idolatrous possessions and hide in the caves and rocks from the “terror of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:5-22). We could cite similar passages from the prophets Amos and Zephaniah, with various twists on this same theme of disaster following idolatry, destruction in the wake of military confidence, and dispossession of wealth resulting from injustice. Amos in particular emphasizes the exploitation of the poor by the rich and powerful as a reason for the coming judgment of the day of the Lord.

So, it is this deep and resonant tradition of prophetic judgment that Paul is citing when he speaks of the day of the Lord. We know what it will be like. The prophets have told us. And God’s people experienced it, their homes destroyed, their property confiscated, their bodies violated and dragged off into exile in Babylon. Paul describes the psychological experience of it vividly: “When they say, there is peace and security, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape.”

This past week, the town hall in Bluffton was flooded by 1500 gallons of water that caused extensive damage on all three floors, shut down the Internet and telephone access, and closed down the entire building, along with the police department. The cause of this destruction was not the flooding of Riley Creek or a burst water pipe but rather the activation of the building’s sprinkler system, after a sprinkler head broke. The very system that was designed to protect the building from disaster was the cause of the disaster. When they say “peace and security” there is sudden destruction.

On a larger stage, during the past few weeks the reports have been piling up about various features of our current climate crisis. A substantial section of the large West Antarctica ice sheet continues to crumble as its melting ice appears to have reached a point of no return, leading scientists to predict a likely rise in sea level of ten feet or more in the coming century. Another report, this one called the National Climate Assessment, documented the symptoms of climate change that are already happening in the United States: water scarcity, increasing torrential rains, multiplying heat waves, worsening wildfires, severe and sustained drought. Right on the heels of that report came an assessment by the CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board that the accelerating rate of climate change is an increasing risk to national security as drought and other weather catastrophes lead to armed conflict over dwindling resources in many parts of the world. Most scientists who study climate change agree that its primary cause is the greenhouse gases that result from the carbon emissions of cars and coal plants. The comfort and convenience of our postindustrial way of life is contributing to the greatest threat to that way of life, as it turns out. When they say “peace and security” there is sudden destruction.

These two examples of catastrophe might bring to mind other disasters that have either arrived or seem to be on the way, from the dismantling of our privacy by the National Security Agency to the potential loss of what is called Net neutrality to the possible end of the Mennonite Church USA as we know it. These and other collapses of order and structure remind us that the built world around us is not reliable, that our peace and security is not guaranteed by the systems of power and authority that prop up the predictable routines of our lives. When they say “peace and security” there is sudden destruction.

So what are we to do with this awareness that life as we know it is coming to an end, that the day of the Lord is coming, that the idolatrous schemes we have invented to secure our lives will betray us? There are two responses that are common and that I am tempted by myself. The first response is a kind of frenetic activism, trying to save the world from its stupid march toward the apocalypse. Let’s work on a petition, start a movement, contact our representatives, write letters to the editor, update our Facebook status with a provocative statement, and so on. As citizens of a democratic society, these are reasonable responses to the problems around us. However, when all of this effort seems futile or becomes exhausting, we can be tempted to give up and simply ignore the realities around us. We perhaps join forces with the second kind of response, which assumes a kind of purposeful oblivion about the problems of the world, a refusal to acknowledge anything that appears unpleasant or inconvenient or that demands our attention. Paul urges the Thessalonians to adopt a different posture than either one of these tempting responses to the entropy of the cosmos. Paul invites us to live as children of the day.


What does Paul mean by this phrase “children of the day?” Once again, we can examine the scriptures Paul read to see what he is likely to have meant. In the same prophetic tradition that speaks of the “day of the Lord,” there are many references to the light of God that takes on the darkness, in which light is associated with salvation and darkness is a metaphor for adversity. In Jacob Elias’s commentary on this chapter, he points out that one of the Dead Sea Scrolls—the War Scroll—features a battle between the children of light and the children of darkness in which the night of evil is defeated by the children of light, after a battle in which the darkness appears at first to be winning. Perhaps most pertinent here is the claim by John the evangelist, that Jesus Christ the Word of God is the light that overcomes the darkness: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:3-5). Elsewhere in II Corinthians, Paul confirms this association between Jesus Christ and the light of day: “For it is the God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6).

So Paul is calling on his audience to be identified with the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, who is not overcome by the adversity of our ruined world, but who, in fact has defeated the forces of destruction in his life and resurrection. It appears to me that this messianic understanding of the triumph of the light and of the day refigures the meaning of the day of the Lord.

Philosopher Giorgio Agamben has stressed that when Paul talks about the day of the Lord coming, he is not merely speaking in the future tense. Ever since the arrival of Jesus Christ on the scene of human history, the day of the Lord comes and is coming or as Agamben puts it, in the Messianic age, the Messiah “never ceases to come.” Agamben agrees with Walter Benjamin that now, in the messianic age, “every day, every instant, is the small gate through which the Messiah enters.” What this means, according to Agamben is that we who are Christians should think of ourselves not as living at the end of time, but rather in the time of the end. We live in a time in which the old regime of violence and oppression and corruption is coming to an end, in which at the same time the peaceable messianic age is dawning. This is the day of the Lord, right now, and so we should neither be surprised at nor overtaken by the disasters that surround us.

It turns out that Paul is offering a new Christ-centered understanding of the day of the Lord. “God has destined us for not wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,” he proclaims. The God of Jesus Christ is not a God of wrath and violence but of love and salvation. That is why the disintegration happening around us provides occasions not just for lament and sorrow but also for life-giving and love-offering action on behalf of the salvation that God is bringing about for us, as the old world collapses. Because of Jesus Christ, the systems and Powers that have failed us do not define us. So put on the breastplate of faith and love. Put on the helmet of the hope of salvation. Live as the children of the day that God has made you to be.

In a recent opinion piece published in the New York Times, James Barilla writes about how he has been changing his urban gardening strategies in response to climate change. At one point, his gardening philosophy had focused on replacing non-native plants with native ones; however, as new weather patterns create new conditions on the ground, he’s decided that those categories of native and non-native don’t make much sense anymore. Instead, he now seeks to cultivate a resilient and diverse garden that provides hospitality to the changing mix of animal species that have been displaced by climate change. For example, he’s cut back the native Goldenrod and made room for non-native flowers that bloom at different times, providing a more stable environment for bees and other insects that rely on a variety of blooming plants to thrive. Aware that monarch butterflies are in trouble, he’s introduced non-native sandhill milkweed into his garden providing a favorite host for the monarchs as they migrate across his state. He writes, “We need to start thinking not just about what used to be, but what could be. It’s going to take a lot of work. But it sure beats despair.” It is just this kind of attentive, alert, and life-embracing activity that Paul associates with the children of the day. James Barilla is not someone with his head in the sand and he’s also not defeated or afraid. Rather than being bound by the habits and systems of the fading world, he is on the lookout for the small gate through which the Messiah enters—although perhaps he would not describe it that way.


As a church we are called to cultivate such practices of attentiveness and openness to the day of the Lord, expecting God’s salvation rather than God’s wrath. We do this, according to Paul, by being at peace among ourselves. But this peace is not simply the absence of conflict. Being at peace instead involves certain kinds of activities that are associated with children of the day. Admonish the idlers. Encourage the faint-hearted. Help the weak. Be patient with everyone. Do not repay evil for evil but seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances. Don’t quench the Spirit. Don’t despise the words of prophets. Test everything. Hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

We are called as God’s people to these practices of being at peace because they are the practices by which we are able to embrace the new heavens and new earth that are being born around us as the creation groans in its delivery. We are called to these practices because when we live together in this way, we witness to the God of peace who sanctifies us and keeps our spirit and soul and body sound. We are called to these practices because we are the church, which is, as Menno Simons taught us, the New Jerusalem that is coming down out of heaven from God, the holy city, a dwelling place for peace and justice.

When John the seer describes this holy city in the book of Revelation, he says that the glory of God is its light and its lamp is the Lamb. He says that the nations will walk by this light and that the kings of the earth will bring their glory to it. The gates will never be shut and there will be no night there.

We do not need to read Revelation very carefully to know that the coming of this holy city is accompanied by much conflict and sorrow and terror as the former things pass away. But for those of us who are already in this city, who are already living as children of the day, the day of the Lord does not come as a thief in the night, does not come as a dreadful surprise, does not come as an outpouring of God’s wrath. Because we know that God has not destined us for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.


Embracing the Poor and Cast-off Little Flock: Why Anna Janz Still Inspires


In 1562, a Dutch Anabaptist printer secretly published a small book of stories and letters that distilled the experience and theology of the persecuted Anabaptist churches in the Netherlands. The book, entitled Het Offer des Heeren (The Sacrifice of the Lord), was small enough to conceal in a coat pocket in order to avoid confiscation by the authorities who were still seeking to rid the country of Anabaptist conventicles and writings. This collection of 22 accounts of Anabaptist suffering and witness was published in eleven different increasingly larger editions by the end of the 16th century and eventually grew into the big book we now know as the Martyrs Mirror by the end of the following century.

The first account of martyrdom in The Sacrifice of the Lord is the story of the Christian martyr Stephen from the book of Acts.  The second account is of the trial and execution of Swiss Brethren leader Michael Sattler. The third account, and the first to reference a Dutch Anabaptist martyr, concerns a woman named Anna Janz of Rotterdam.  The information given about her is the same as the information we have in our English edition of the Martyrs Mirror, now published by Herald Press and first brought to print by Indiana Mennonite leader John Funk in 1886.  The Martyrs Mirror reports that Anna gave a letter or testament to her son Isaiah at 9:00 on the morning of January 24, 1539, as she was preparing to die “for the testimony of Jesus” at Rotterdam. This letter was clearly of great significance not only to Anna’s son Isaiah, but also to the Dutch Anabaptist churches more broadly, since it appears at the head of this collection of Dutch martyr accounts and letters.  Moreover, it is apparent that Anna’s testimony was read and cherished by many suffering Dutch Anabaptists who drew on her language and commonplaces as they composed their own farewell letters to members of their families and churches, letters that appear in our Martyrs Mirror farther back in the book and that sometimes borrow almost verbatim from Anna’s letter.

Who was this woman whose life and witness powerfully shaped Dutch Anabaptist spiritual responses to the conflict they experienced with their society? Fortunately, when we turn to the German translation of the Martyrs Mirror, we find more information.  This is because when Peter Miller of the Ephrata Commune translated the Martyrs Mirror into German on behalf of Pennsylvania Mennonites in 1749, he used the 1685 Dutch edition of the Martyrs Mirror, which included more information about Anna than the 1660 edition, which served as the basis for our current English edition.  The German translation by Peter Miller was also the basis for a different English translation, sponsored by the Reformed Mennonites in 1837.  Therefore, in the Reformed Mennonite edition, we also have the additional information about Anna.

There are a number of fascinating details that appear in this account.  First, we learn that Anna was connected with David Joris, who at that time was a rival of Menno Simons, and the leader of a large peaceful faction of Dutch Anabaptists.  David Joris was a spiritualist Anabaptist who believed that mystical revelations had greater spiritual authority than the Bible and he fiercely opposed Menno Simons’ emphasis on a Bible-centered, communally accountable visible church, although he did share Menno’s pacifism.  Anna was apparently fairly close to David Joris and wrote him an admiring letter, which was printed in the 1685 Martyrs Mirror, and therefore also in the German edition and in this Reformed Mennonite sponsored English translation.  In this letter she calls David a “valiant leader of Israel” and urges him to “accomplish what you began to build up in the house of the Lord…to prepare the Lord an acceptable people, so that he may speedily come into his temple.”

We also learn from the more detailed account about Anna that she was in her late twenties when she was captured, that she was born into wealth, and that she and her husband had fled to England to avoid persecution.  We learn that someone named Meynart baptized her and her husband and that the form of her execution was death by drowning.

When modern historians examined the identity of the man who baptized Anna, they discovered that this was Meynart von Emden, a leader among the Münsterite Anabaptists who in 1534 had overtaken the city of Münster by force, required all adults to either be rebaptized or leave the city, abolished private property, and established polygamy. Thousands of Anabaptists responded to the invitation to leave their homes and towns and make the trek to Münster where they could be part of the New Jerusalem being established there as part of God’s plan for the last days. Although Meynart does not appear to have gone to Münster, he did seek to stir up an Anabaptist revolutionary movement in Amsterdam, where he helped launch an attack on the city in 1535.

Anna, who was around 24 years old when she was baptized, was influenced by the apocalyptic fervor that stirred Dutch Anabaptism during those years.  This fervor is evident in a famous revolutionary song that she wrote, called The Trumpet Song which has been called the Marseillaies of early Dutch Anabaptism.  This song was published in a songbook edited by David Joris and after her death was published together with her letter to her son and a letter from David Joris in a popular pamphlet of 1539.

In the song, she reflects the same themes of God’s vengeance and justice that inspired Münsterite Anabaptists like Meynart.  However, while Anna expects God’s justice to come soon, she does not call for taking up the sword.  Instead, like David Joris, she calls for worship and celebration and thanksgiving for the justice that is on the way and that is God’s to accomplish.

It is not clear what happened to Anna’s husband Arent Janz after they fled to England as did so many Dutch Anabaptists during those bloody years. But it is clear from the historical record that Anna returned to the Netherlands in 1538 with a female companion and a son.  A fellow traveller reported them to the authorities, recognizing them as Anabaptists because they were singing an Anabaptist song.  In prison, Anna composed a letter to her son Isaiah and on the day of her execution she offered her fortune to anyone who would be willing to raise the child.  This scene is captured movingly by Jan Luyken, the illustrator of the 1685 edition of the Martyrs Mirror.  However, this image was not included in our English edition, so I have included it here.

Following her death, Anna’s testament to her son became a touchstone of Anabaptist martyr literature. In addition to being printed together with her Trumpet song as a pamphlet and placed at the beginning of the Dutch Anabaptist martyr tradition in the many editions of the little book The Sacrifice of the Lord, the testament, like so many martyr testimonies, was transformed into a song that was included in the 1570 edition of the Sacrifice of the Lord and eventually made it into the famous Swiss Brethren hymnbook, the Ausbund, that is still used by the Amish.

What was so attractive and powerful about Anna’s testimony for those who read and sang it over the years?  I want to identify three important motifs in Anna’s testament. You may notice other motifs or appeals that stand out as persuasive and attractive, or even as troubling and problematic.

First, this is a Testament that provides assurance of God’s solidarity with the poor and the weak during a time of chaos and vulnerability.  God will bring justice and a better country to those who seek it.  God will restore bodies that have been hurt.  God will bring vengeance to the powerful and unjust. These are words of comfort and strength for people have experienced loss of control over the circumstances of their life.  We may not be able to fix things, but the God we serve surely will.

Second, in this Testament, the faithful are called to follow the same difficult path that Anna is walking—the path of the apostles and martyrs, the path followed by Jesus Christ.  This is a path of suffering and bitterness that paradoxically leads to great joy and life. These are words that give agency and choice to people who have been told that they have no choices.  Anyone can decide to walk the path of the apostles and martyrs, even when you have been imprisoned or boxed-in by circumstances or lost your livelihood. Anyone can decide to follow Jesus.

Third, in this Testament, Anna urges a life of simplicity and generosity, being attached to a poor and cast-off little flock, where the cross is visible and the poor are cared for. This text is an early Anabaptist stewardship text that calls for receiving resources as gifts to share, rather than to hoard for the self.  The vision of a little flock of cross-bearing disciples and generous stewards as God’s people is a compelling vision of the church that stands in contrast with the assumption that God’s action in the world is identified with the big cathedral in the middle of town and its members that have political clout and economic leverage. The powers of this world cannot be trusted with our lives but the little flock and its shepherd can.

These themes of apocalyptic expectation, suffering discipleship, and generous community are not unusual themes in Anabaptism.  However, it is not often the case that apocalyptic expectation is blended so well with an earnest call to peaceful and generous community life.  As Werner Packull has pointed out in his 1987 essay for Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte, Anna’s life and writings eloquently embody the traumatic transformation of Dutch Anabaptism from a violent revolutionary movement into a peaceful countercultural church.  As he puts it , “revolutionary and peaceful Anabaptists, Jorists and Doopsgezinde, initially co-existed in the same movement, and, as in the case of Joris, for a time at least, in one and the same person.“

What an inspiring and challenging life Anna of Rotterdam lived in her 29 years on this earth. What a gift she left behind in her letters and songs.

Anna’s Testament can be found on pages 453-454 of the Herald Press edition of the Martyrs Mirror.  More of her life story is also retold in Profiles of Anabaptist Women, edited by C. Arnold Snyder and Linda A. Huebert Hecht.